Court Closures

Oral Answers to Questions — Justice – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 8th September 2015.

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Photo of Gareth Johnson Gareth Johnson Conservative, Dartford 11:30 am, 8th September 2015

What assessment he has made of the effect on the provision of justice of proposed court closures.

Photo of Shailesh Vara Shailesh Vara The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The current courts system is unsustainable and we want to create a more modern, user-focused and efficient service that is better for all. Ensuring that the public can access courts when they need them will be uppermost in my mind when considering the future of any court, once the consultation closes.

Photo of Gareth Johnson Gareth Johnson Conservative, Dartford

It is disappointing that my local court in Dartford has been earmarked for closure. Will the Minister please assure the House that when he decides which courts will be closed, he will give weight to the valid argument that local justice is at its best when meted out by local people in a local courthouse?

Photo of Shailesh Vara Shailesh Vara The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

My hon. Friend is another Member who is doughty in speaking up for his constituents and I commend him for that. Again, as far as Dartford magistrates court is concerned, I assure him that no final decisions have been taken. Local justice is important and I am open to suggestions of other venues. I reiterate that we have the potential to use video conferencing. Lawyers are already using telephone conferencing. Two sets of lawyers will have a three-way conversation with a judge in chambers, rather than going to court as they did in old times. We must make use of modern technology if we are to keep pace with the 21st century.

Photo of Seema Malhotra Seema Malhotra Shadow Minister (Home Office)

I remain concerned about the proposed closure of Feltham magistrates court, following the closure of Brentford magistrates court. I am concerned that it will break the fundamental link between local people and the justice system, and not just because of the travel issues. Feltham magistrates court has been successful in running school competitions to increase understanding of the justice system. Is the Minister concerned about the collective impact of the proposals, alongside the closure of police stations, on people’s relationship with the justice system and on its effectiveness in our communities?

Photo of Shailesh Vara Shailesh Vara The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The hon. Lady and I have spoken about the proposals in her constituency. I am confident that the connection that police and the local justice system have with the local community will remain strong. The only thing that will happen is that we will move to a 21st-century legal system. I emphasise that the proposal has the total backing of the senior judiciary. They are the people who operate within the courts and they support the proposals.